Macarons: The Final Chapter . . .

There, there, don’t cry!  It’s not really goodbye after all – of course I will continue to seek out macarons wherever I go!  Perhaps I will find some on my upcoming travels to Auckland & San Francisco – heck, macarons can even be found in Buffalo these days!  And of course I’ll be baking up a storm once I get home, so get ready!😀

In the meantime, here’s a final look at the macarons I’ve enjoyed from Adriano Zumbo.  Many of these I actually had quite some time ago, I guess I just never got around to writing up this last post (sniff, sniff!).

Blackcurrant; Rice Pudding

Blackcurrant

This one was a bit too tart for my taste on the first bite, but I guess my palate adjusted because I wrote in my notes that the flavor grew on me.

Rice Pudding

The first thing to hit is the nutmeg, then the texture of the rice (very nice!).  The flavor reminded me a bit of Christmas cookies – maybe Mexican wedding cakes?  I guess it had that taste of icing sugar, but not too overpowering – sweet in a good way.

*For some reason I saved both of these macarons for the next day & unfortunately there was a noticeable loss of crispness to the shells.  This was especially true with the rice pudding.  Perhaps it was because I neglected to put them in an airtight container overnight.  Live & learn!

Licorice - Crispy-crunchy shell, gooey melt-in-your mouth cream filling - it's what I love best about these heavenly treats!

Licorice

After taking my first bite, I had to scrunch up my nose a bit at this one . . . it tasted exactly as it should have, but I guess I had forgotten I’m not really a fan of black licorice to begin with – hahaha!😉  It did grow on me (a *bit*) with the second bite.

"Chocoron" - The orange shell with yellow filling was not exactly what I was expecting to find inside!

“Chocoron”

All I knew about this macaron when I bought it was that it was coated in chocolate.  I decided to be adventurous & try to solve the mystery, setting aside the fact that Zumbo macarons are a bit like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (As Dumbledore says to Harry Potter . . . “I should be safe with a nice toffee one . . . Alas!  Earwax!”)

Hoping to find a relatively “safe” flavor inside (please no earwax!), I discovered what I believe was mandarin.  While I like oranges, mandarins in particular have always seemed slightly bitter in flavor to me & this was no exception.  The combination with the dark chocolate didn’t help in my opinion.  Oh well, so much for adventure!

Pear & Vanilla; Dark Chocolate

Pear & Vanilla

Tastes mostly of pear initially, then the vanilla (vanilla bean?) comes through & lingers on the palate.

Dark Chocolate

This one caught my attention because it said “Limited Time Only!”  I was also curious about the orange shell, but it turned out that there were no surprises here – which is sometimes a good thing!😉  Nice dark chocolate flavor.

Caramelised Pumpkin Seed; Coconut, Green chili & Lavender

Caramelized Pumpkin Seed

I was so excited when I saw this macaron! . . . But unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment, probably because I was expecting more pumpkin flavor, not really thinking about the fact that this was a pumpkin *seed* macaron.  It had heaps of silky cream filling, but the main flavor I picked up on was simply vanilla.  The pumpkin seeds gave this macaron a nice crunch, but without them & without knowing the name of this macaron, I wouldn’t have been able to guess what it was.

Coconut, Green Chili & Lavender

I specifically bought this macaron because of the strange combination of flavors.😉  I could smell the green chili right away!  The filling, which I tried first, had a mild taste but a lingering “heat” to it.  I couldn’t really taste the lavender or coconut, I just sensed the heat of the chili on the back of my throat.  Perhaps the coconut was there more as a way to mellow out the chili.  Surprisingly, not a bad macaron!

So, there you have it!  And I can only imagine what zany new flavors Zumbo is conjuring up as we speak . . . Oh, what the heck – I suppose it couldn’t hurt to pop in one last time before I have to say farewell to Sydney & my Aussie adventure . . .

An Aussie Night Before Christmas


MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM DOWN UNDER!!

For this post I thought I would do a bit of show & tell – I am going to show you what Christmas looks like in Sydney & tell you the story of An Aussie Night Before Christmas (& yes, I bought a copy of this book, along with one called Christmas Wombat! ;))  So grab a cup of hot cocoa & settle in – this is going to be a good one! . . . Oh!  And be sure to warm up your voices – we might just sing a rendition of Jingle Bells (Aussie-style, of course!!) before this post is through!😉

An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison

‘Twas the night before Christmas;

there wasn’t a sound.

Not a possum was stirring;

no-one was around.


We’d left on the table

some tucker & beer,

Hoping that Santa Claus

soon would be here;


We children were snuggled up safe in our beds,

While dreams of pavlova danced ’round in our heads;


And Mum in her nightie, & Dad in his shorts,

Had just settled down to watch TV Sports,


When outside the house

a mad ruckus arose;

Loud squeaking & banging

woke us from our doze.

We ran to the screen door,

peeked cautiously out,

Snuck onto the deck,

then let out a shout.

Guess what had woken us up

from our snooze.

But a rusty old ute

pulled by eight mighty ‘roos.

The cheerful man driving

was giggling with glee,

And we both knew at once

who this plump bloke must be.


Now I’m telling the truth – it’s all dinki-di,

Those eight kangaroos fairly soared through the sky.


Santa leaned out the window to pull at the reins,

And encouraged the ‘roos, by calling their names.


‘Now, Kylie!  Now, Kirsty!

Now, Shazza & Shane!

On, Kipper!  On, Skipper!

On, Bazza & Wayne!

Park up on that water tank,

Grab a quick drink,

I’ll scoot down the gum tree.

Be back in a wink!’


So up to the tank

those eight kangaroos flew,

With the ute full of toys,

& Santa Claus too.

He slid down the gum tree

& jumped to the ground,

Then in through the window

he sprang with a bound.


He had bright sunburned cheeks

& a milky white beard.

A jolly old joker

was how he appeared.

He wore red stubby shorts

& old thongs on his feet,

And a hat of deep crimson

as shade from the heat.

His eyes – bright as opals –

Oh! how they twinkled!

And, like a goanna,

his skin was quite wrinkled!

His shirt was stretched over

a round bulging belly

Which shook when he moved,

like a plate full of jelly.


A fat sack of prezzies

he flung from his back,

And he looked like a swaggie

unfastening his pack.

He spoke not a word,

but bent down on one knee,

To position our goodies

beneath the Yule tree.


Surfboard & footy-ball shapes

for us two.

And for dad, tongs to use

on the new barbeque.

A mysterious package

he left for our mum,

Then he turned & he winked

& he held up his thumb;

He strolled out on deck & his ‘roos came on cue;

Flung his sack in the back & prepared to shoot through.

He bellowed out loud as they swooped past the gates –


‘MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, & GOODONYA, MATES!’

Well, now that I’ve got you in the Christmas spirit, are you ready for a little sing-a-long?!  I thought so!!😀  Here’s a video of “Bucko & Champs” singing “Aussie Jingle Bells.”  Oh!  If you like what you hear, you may also want to search for some of their other well-known holiday hits, including such favorites as “Six White Boomers” (Careful!  You won’t recognize this tune, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll get stuck in your head), “Deck the Shed With Bits of Wattle” & “Santa Has Got a New Truck” (which, sadly, I could not find a link for. :()  Totally serious, people – I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!  You’ll see an ad for their CD at the end of the first video.😀

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!  AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Light Show at St. Mary's Cathedral

Christmas Window Display at David Jones Department Store

Doves at St. Mary's

Inside Sydney Opera House Concert Hall

The Madonna & Child

Nativity at Hyde Park

When Does a Traveler Become a Resident? . . . The Search for a Place Called Home

"Art & About" Festival on the streets of Sydney

As with my post on my first six months abroad, I have been both planning on (read: procrastinating) & dreading (yep, *more* procrastinating) writing this post for quite some time now.  As my days in Oz quickly draw to a close, I can’t even begin to come to terms with the mixed emotions I’m currently feeling.  I apologize in advance if this post is not as cohesive as it could be, but perhaps this stream of consciousness style best mirrors my current frame of mind . . .

Below is a letter I wrote to my parents some time ago:

Dear Mom & Dad,

I want to come home.  I wish I could.  Today is Monday.  Everyone in my tent is homesick.  We haven’t been doing much.  Remember you said Kelly’s mom might pick up me & Kelly, well I want you guys to come too.  I hate the songs we sing.  Last night it rained & today it rained too.  I hope the days go faster because it’s getting more & more boring.  Please right back soon. (Editor’s Note: This is not a typo, that’s just how I spelled ‘write’ at the time – oops!)

Love, Niki

Home Sweet Home - in cold & snowy Buffalo, NY

OK, so hopefully you’ve figured out by now that this letter truly was sent *quite* some time ago – as in over 20 years ago!!😉  I was away at summer camp with a friend & clearly I was having a hard time.😦

Fortunately life in Oz has not been quite so miserable (far from it, in fact), but that’s not to say it’s always been easy.  While I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything, there were definitely periods when I wished I could take a sort of “time out,” for lack of a better word (a vacation from my vaction, perhaps?), to visit with loved ones & experience the familiarity of home (Take bananas, for example – do you have any idea how much it cost just to get a banana here after the Queensland floods?  Try $15/kilo (that’s almost $7/lb!)  Oh, how I longed for a banana!  Fortunately prices have recently come down & I can once again afford the delicious fruit. :))

But here’s the thing – as much as my blog might portray my experience abroad as a vacation, of course it’s much more than that.  I do in fact eat more than just dessert – heck, I even cook my own dinner once in a while! (despite the lack of culinary skill I displayed in my Thanksgiving post, I do alright for myself ;)).

Nanie's Homemade Soup - Made by Moi!

I go grocery shopping.  I do laundry.  I vacuum & do dishes & rake leaves.  And although I know it was only part-time for six months, I worked in order to support myself.  And at some point along the way I stopped feeling like a traveler.  In fact, I think I almost stopped identifying as a foreigner (besides the accent – gives me away every time ;)).  But in all seriousness, in some ways, I started to feel more like a local.

I don’t think I can pinpoint the first time it happened, but I can give you some recent examples.  Like on my bus tour to nearby Hunter Valley – everyone else on the tour (besides my flatmate Mia) was truly a non-resident of Sydney (including the Melbournian on the trip) – visiting the city only briefly & staying with friends or in a hostel or hotel.  When the bus dropped us off back in Sydney at the end of the day, one of the girls from the tour asked Mia & I where we were going.  “Home,” she replied.  And then there’s the guy from Melbourne who asked me for directions just the other day . . . & I actually knew where to send him! (which, if you know me at all, is a pretty big feat since even in my own hometown my navigational skills are pretty hit or miss 0:-)).

Home Away from Home - My Flat in Sydney

So maybe you can understand why, although I’ll be going home next month, it also feels a bit like I’ll be *leaving* home.  I’ve become accustomed to the cars driving on the other side of the road, seeing (& tasting) every macaron flavor known to man each time I walk into one of Adriano Zumbo’s patisseries, hearing phrases like “how ya goin?” & “good on ya!” on a regular basis . . . I’m going to miss that . . .

Macaron Day 2011 Window Display

I thought I would have a clearer picture by now, but I still can’t fathom how this experience might shape the way I make decisions moving forward: What will I do next in my life because of the time I spent abroad?  I can’t imagine a future which doesn’t include more travel – there are so many places I still want to see.  But I also know that, for me at least, long-term solo travel can take its toll.  After months away from friends & family, I am aching to return home & hug my loved ones.  So I am torn.  Drawn to both adventure & comfort in equal measure.  Away for too long & I start to feel homesick; Stay in one place & I become restless.

As I once again ponder my next steps in life, I feel it’s appropriate to remind my readers (& myself) of the travel/life philosophy I wrote at the beginning of this journey:

Live in the Moment

Step Outside My Comfort Zone

Let My Heart Lead & My Mind be the Accompanist

Seek Passion in all its Forms

Although I don’t think it will ever be easy for me, I’m beginning to understand (on an intellectual level, at least) that it’s OK not to know.  That what comes next cannot always be neatly laid out like tomorrow’s clothes.  Sometimes it’s nice just to wake up in the morning & ask yourself, “What would I like to do today?”

Now before you scoff at how naive that may sound, let me clarify that I don’t intend for that statement to be taken literally.  What I mean is this – who we are & what we desire is constantly evolving.  Throughout our lives we continuously meet new people, develop new interests, learn new skills.

Lauren & I at Bar 99 in Glebe

I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to sit with the not knowing – it’s not.  But maybe it’s not so important for us to be able to answer all of life’s questions; perhaps it’s enough simply that we are not afraid to ask them.

All I can really say for certain at this stage of my life is that I will continue to ask questions – of myself, of others, of the world around me.  I think that’s the best way to stay true to each of the ideals I’ve been striving towards throughout the past year.

So . . . What would I like to do today?  Today I think I’ll hop a flight to Queensland – Christmas on the beach sounds rather nice . . .😉

An Aussie Thanksgiving

My flatmates as we prepare to eat our Thanksgiving dinner - Mia, Miel & Sarah

Macaron Day (Sunday, November 27th) was also the day my flatmates & I planned to celebrate my first Thanksgiving abroad (& their first Thanksgiving ever!)  They wanted me to have a taste of home, so they graciously agreed to help me prepare a turkey feast complete with all the trimmings . . . & they were quite curious to try candied yams . . . marshmallows?  On vegetables?!  Yes, we Americans are a strange bunch.😉

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about the whole thing – as the only American in the bunch, I was suddenly the “expert” & was expected to know things like how to roast a turkey – never mind the fact that I’d never done this before & pretty much the only raw meat I ever touch are boneless, skinless chicken breasts – I have to pull what out of where?!  :-/  I figured the least I could do was to purchase the bird & I’d already done (well, some of) my research & found a 3.4 kilo (7.5 lb) turkey at a local supermarket, so I knew exactly what I was going to get.  This was actually a whole turkey as we weren’t able to find just the breast, but it seemed relatively small so we figured it would work for the four of us (with lots of leftover turkey sandwiches for the week to come).  I decided I would wait until Saturday night after work to pick it up – since we have limited space in both our freezer & fridge, I figured this was the smart thing to do . . . Yeah – didn’t think about the fact that a 7.5 lb turkey can take up to 48 hours to defrost . . . now what?!

Fortunately my flatmate Mia is studying to be a chef, so I figured she’d have some tricks up her sleeve . . . & I was right!  After leaving the turkey in the fridge overnight we were able to finish defrosting it in cold water in the kitchen sink.  Even though Mia had never actually cooked a turkey before, she had some great ideas about how to prepare it.  First she “trussed” the turkey (I tried to tell her it was already dead & probably wouldn’t be able to climb out of the pan on its own, so I really saw no need to tie it up, but she just wouldn’t listen).  Then she seasoned it with oil, garlic, thyme, lemon & a whole host of veggies.  She even draped strips of bacon over the top to help keep it from drying out!

Our Turkey - all dressed up & ready to go in the oven!

The next big hurdle was just waiting for the darn thing to cook!  We didn’t have a meat thermometer, so we just had to keep checking it to see if the juices were running clear.  I don’t know about Mia, but I had a really hard time figuring this out!  We kept giving it another 15 minutes . . . & then another 15 minutes . . . until finally we were satisfied that we would not all die of food poisoning if we ate it.😉

Is it done yet?!

We were all so proud of our finished turkey!!  But like good chefs & bloggers we had to snap a few photos before we could even think about eating.  We were like food stylists, crafting the perfect backdrops & searching for the best angles from which to point our lenses.  We decided the turkey didn’t quite stand out enough on the plate, so we made it a bed of lettuce to give it a little color.🙂

My First Turkey! OK, I guess I already admitted I had nothing to do with it - it was all Mia!!

The “tree” in the picture below does not usually sit on our kitchen table but it made a nice addition to our autumnal theme, so into the photo it went!😉

Our Beautiful Thanksgiving Spread

In addition to the turkey, Mia made the candied yams as well as some basil mashed potatoes! (way above & beyond, Mia!)  We got a basic recipe for the yams from my mom (yeah . . . I didn’t know how to do the turkey or the sweet potatoes – perhaps I should surrender my American passport? :()  Once I saw the recipe, I realized how simple the yams actually are – cut them up & layer in a casserole with butter, brown sugar & marshmallows & bake until potatoes are soft & marshmallows are brown . . . except that when we went to check on them the marshmallows hadn’t exactly browned . . . instead they had, well, um, disappeared!!  I was just about peeing my pants at that point.  But surely if that was the only thing to go wrong then I’d say we did pretty well.  We had a few marshmallows left so we just threw them on top & left the casserole in the oven with the heat turned off for a few minutes – I think they look pretty good in the picture above & I can vouch for the fact that they tasted fabulous!🙂

OK, so if Mia made everything I’ve described so far, then by now you’re probably wondering what the heck I actually made!  Well in comparison, not much!  I made my aunt’s broccoli stuffing & I bought a jar of cranberry sauce – that’s it!  Sarah made a salad & Miel made a pumpkin pie & by the end of the night were all stuffed!🙂

Miel's Delicious Pumpkin Pie!

As I wrap up this post, I can’t help but contemplate the many things I have to be thankful for this year.  The opportunity to live abroad & experience another culture.  The fact that I found work (in a cupcake shop, no less!) so easily & the fact that I have been able (& will soon be able again) to leave work in order to travel.  My newfound barista & macaron-making skills.  Finding wonderful flatmates to live with during my time in Sydney as well as several other new friends during my travels.  And of course the wonderful family & friends from home that I love & miss so dearly!  Looking forward to seeing you all in 2012!

Macaron Day 2011

Lauren & I can hardly contain our excitement outside Adriano Zumbo's as we eagerly await our turn to go inside!

“Falling Nuts Postpone Macaron Day!”

Perhaps the strangest headline ever written – strange, but true!  Adriano Zumbo’s annual Macaron Day has always been held on his birthday – November 6th – until now.  Just before this year’s event was scheduled to occur, I noticed an update on his website explaining that some nuts fell into the almond meal (an essential ingredient for macarons), requiring him to push back Macaron Day 2011 several weeks to November 27th.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Zumbo’s Macaron Day, it is an annual event where he & his staff bake heaps of macarons in every flavor imaginable (think Willy Wonka, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans from the Harry Potter series, etc.) . . . OK, so not much different than a normal day in Zumboville except that Macaron Day features about 60 flavors as compared to the usual 12.  How could I pass this up?!

Me, Christina & Lauren with our stash!

As I queued up with Lauren & Christina I couldn’t help but ponder some of this year’s choices:

VEGEMITE – ugh! (didn’t try it – didn’t have to – hahaha! ;))

REDSKIN – whaaa . . . ?  “Do you think they mean like a redskin potato?” I asked my companions.  “Or football player?!” quipped Lauren.  Thank goodness Christina finally corrected us.  “Um, guys, redskin is an Australian candy.”  OH!🙂  Strangely enough, I happened to spot the candy in a store for the first time later that afternoon & my curiosity got the better of me – I had to try some!  Unfortunately I hadn’t purchased the corresponding macaron from Zumbo’s, but I’m sure it would have been very nice since the candy itself was quite yummy!

Willy Wonka Red Skins Candy

Red Skins Candy - chewy, sticky taffy - tastes like Cherry Starburst

Below are the 12 macaron flavors I did sample . . . & no, I did not eat 12 macarons in one day!  I actually cut off a quarter of each – just enough to get a taste – meaning that I only ate the equivalent of 3 macarons & I also left enough of each flavor for my flatmates to do the same (being the good flatmate that I am, I had promised to bring them back some).🙂  But of course I couldn’t go straight home without first taking a few nibbles! 0:-)  So Lauren, Christina & I made our way back to Lauren’s flat, which just so happens to be around the corner from Zumbo’s Patisserie.

While Christina & I spent at least a quarter of an hour trying to identify each macaron we purchased (Is the green one Milo or Chocolate Mint?!), Brendan & Lauren wasted no time taste-testing their lot.

Before I began tasting, I wanted to figure out which macaron was which – I didn’t think it would be too hard considering there were only 12 flavors & I had chosen them all personally, but boy was I wrong!  I looked them all over carefully, smelled each one, compared notes with Christina (who spent just as long analyzing her macarons as I did – glad I’m not the only obsessive one!) & then finally (& only after giving into some taste-testing of several macarons that had evaded every other test), I was able to piece it all together. YEAH!😀

From left to right: Fried Chicken; Vanilla Ecstasy; Toasted Marshmallow; Butterscotch Caramel; Strawberry Bubblegum

1. FRIED CHICKEN – Yes, you read that right!!  And it really did taste like chicken!  I was a bit scared to try it at first – I mean, a chicken flavored macaron?  Seriously?!  It was quite good, but I have to say it looked & tasted more like a chicken nugget than a macaron.  Perhaps Zumbo should start a line of canapes?😉

Fried Chicken Macaron!

2. VANILLA ECSTASY – Sometimes the classics are the best.  My flatmate Sarah & I tasted this one together & after a few seconds we both smiled, nodded & said “mmmm!” at the exact same time.🙂  Really nice vanilla bean flavor.

3. TOASTED MARSHMALLOW – Very light & airy filling on this one.  Not bad, but not a standout for me.

4. BUTTERSCOTCH CARAMEL – The caramel sauce on this one tasted a bit bitter – not sure if it was meant to be that way – perhaps it was a burnt caramel sauce (either by design or by accident) or just the influence of the butterscotch when combined with the caramel?

5. STRAWBERRY BUBBLEGUM – The only tasting note I wrote down for this one was “awesome!”  Tasted just like the real thing.  Loved it!

From left to right: Coffee; Custard Crunch; Pandan & Coconut; Maple Syrup Pancake; Milo; Peach Iced Tea; Peanut Butter & Jelly

6. COFFEE – The filling in this macaron tasted exactly like a beautifully pulled shot of espresso.  Experienced that happy feeling I get when I drink the perfect cup – more, please!😀

7. CUSTARD CRUNCH – Decent custard flavor, but the shell was too soft (perhaps from the moisture in the custard filling?) – didn’t have that nice crisp texture I know & love!

8. PANDAN & COCONUT – Nice, but a bit on the sweet side for me.  I think I prefer the pure Pandan flavored macaron I got from Zumbo’s a while back.  By the way, pandan can be described as “fragrant Asian leaf.”  Sounds strange, but tastes good!😉

9. MAPLE SYRUP PANCAKE – Nice maple flavor.  Brekky, anyone?

10. MILO – This was one that Christina & I had both purchased & we both struggled to identify!  Milo is an Australian Chocolate Malt Drink – you mix the chocolate powder with hot or cold milk & voila! Instant, yummy drink.🙂  One of the things that Milo is famous for is the chocolate crunchies that form from the bits of chocolate that don’t dissolve in the milk (somewhat similar to the chocolate crunchies inside a Carvel ice cream cake – yum!)

Anyway, in our minds we were looking for a chocolate (i.e., completely brown-colored) macaron, so the green shell combined with the brown center looked to us like it could have been Chocolate Mint (but although this flavor was on the menu, I hadn’t ordered it).  We finally had to taste it & we eventually realized that the green shell symbolized the green tin that Milo is packaged in!  While this macaron had a nice chocolate taste, it was sadly missing the chocolate crunchies that are characteristic of a Milo beverage.😦

Nestle Milo - Popular Chocolate Malt Drink & now a macaron flavor too!

11. PEACH ICED TEA – Another great flavor!  Very authentic tasting & refreshing.

12. PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY – How could I resist a PB & J macaron?!  The peanut butter flavor was quite nice, but there was such a small dab of jelly in the center, it was easy to miss.

PB & J Macaron

Macaron Day, what can I say?  You are fabulous & you will be sorely missed in 2012!  I guess next year I’ll just have to celebrate from afar by baking up some of my own Zumbo-inspired concoctions.  Anyone care to join me?😉

Crave Sydney

Night Noodle Markets, Crave Sydney International Food Festival

It’s an ingenious name.  And not just for a food festival.  Everything about Sydney makes me crave this amazing city.  Beautiful harbours.  Incredible beaches.  And yes, of course the food!

As if there weren’t already enough food festivals in Sydney (could there be such a thing as too many food festivals?!), the entire month of October is dedicated to celebrating food around this bustling metropolis.  The Crave Sydney International Food Festival encompasses more events than one person could possibly partake in, but I gave it my best effort.😉  On top of that, I also attended several *additional* festivals throughout October that were not officially part of the Crave Sydney calendar.  Were you expecting anything less from me?😉

Below I take you through my experiences, in chronological order:

DARLING HARBOUR FIESTA – Saturday, October 1st & Monday, October 3rd (I enjoyed it so much, I went back a second time!)

My favorite part of Darling Harbour

Walking around the Darling Harbour Fiesta I felt as if I had come full circle: it was hard to believe that just one year before, I had been attending the very same festival while visiting Heather.  Little did I know then that I’d be back in town for the 2011 festivities!😀

Latin dancing

Latin music & dancing are hallmarks of this event, along with food from countries such as Brazil, Mexico & Argentina.  I couldn’t resist getting some churros (Spanish-style doughnuts) for dessert – yum!

These churros were actually from a cafe called Chocolateria San Churro - so good!

Although they can be eaten plain, they really are best when served with either chocolate or dulce de leche (caramel) dipping sauce – or both!😉

The crowds at Darling Harbour Fiesta

Darling Harbour Fiesta Parade

MasterChef LIVE! – Saturday, October 8th @ Hordern Pavilion & Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park

After closely following season 3 of MasterChef Australia throughout the past several months, I was excited for the opportunity to see some of the top contestants in action.

George Calombaris with Contestants Dani & Alana

I planned out my schedule in advance so I wouldn’t miss anything & my day was definitely jam-packed!  Here was my itinerary:

– 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. Mystery Box with Adriano Zumbo & MasterChef Winner Kate, hosted by George Calombaris.  The title made me think Zumbo & Kate would compete in a challenge together, but it was actually George & Kate that battled it out (George won according to the taste-taster they selected from the audience to judge their dishes).  Zumbo was there too, but was given his own stage time to show us how to make the “Chocolate Breakfast” from his new cookbook.🙂

– 11:50 a.m. – 12:10 p.m. “How to” Session with Adriano Zumbo.  The program didn’t specify what we’d be learning, but Zumbo ended up giving a brief demonstration on how to temper chocolate.

Adriano Zumbo shows us how to temper chocolate

– 1:45 – 2:15 p.m. Contestant Theatre – Pumpkin, goat cheese & spinach risotto with Contestants Dani & Alana (pictured at the beginning of this section).

– 3:30 – 4:00 p.m. Wine & Cheese Pairing.  We sampled 5 different wines & cheeses & yes, I left with a slight buzz – you all know I can’t hold my liquor!😉

Wine & Cheese Tasting

In addition to all the demonstrations, there were heaps of exhibitors selling various food items & giving away free samples.  Overall I’d say the event was a huge success – in fact, I don’t think the organizers had anticipated just how much of a success it would be given the limited seating I encountered for the demos.  I queued up for an hour to get a seat at the mystery box theatre & the celebrity chef & contestant theatre areas were also way too small for the masses that crowded around to view them.  Maybe next year they’ll use an even bigger venue!

CRAVE SYDNEY: SUGAR HIT – Tuesday, October 11th @ Tomislav, Darlinghurst

Apple Crumble with Macadamia Sponge & Caramel Ice Cream

By far, this has got to be the best idea for an event EVER.  So what exactly is a “Sugar Hit?”  Well, just as the name suggests, it’s an excuse to indulge in something sweet (like we needed a reason?! ;))  During the month of October, various restaurants around Sydney offered wine & dessert specials starting at 9:00 p.m.  My flatmate Mia, her friend Sabrina & I chose Tomislav for both the setting (many of the other “Sugar Hits” were located in hotels) & the incredible menu.  Just look at these desserts!

Vanilla Cheesecake with Grilled Strawberries & Mulberry Sorbet

The apple crumble pictured at the beginning of this section was probably the most unique of the three desserts we ordered.  Our waiter hinted that there would be a surprise inside & sure enough when I took my first bite I felt a tingling sensation on my tongue . . . it was none other than Pop-Rocks!!  Not something I want in my apple crumble as a general rule, but the element of surprise definitely put a smile on my face & had me feeling like a little kid again.😀

Milk Chocolate Cream Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts & Smoked Banana Ice Cream

It was a toss-up between the vanilla cheesecake & the milk chocolate cream cake as to which we liked best.  All of the desserts looked so pretty on the plate & the textures & flavors were amazing – definitely not your average, run-of-the-mill desserts!

CRAVE SYDNEY: NIGHT NOODLE MARKETSFriday, October 14th @ Hyde Park

Several people recommended that I stop by the Night Noodle Markets during its two-week-long run in mid-October & had there not been so many other foodie events occurring around the same time, I might have gone back for more!

Lanterns at the Night Noodle Markets

It’s always great to have a free, outdoor event where you can just walk around at your leisure & enjoy the fresh air, sit & people watch for a while & enjoy a nice meal.  The Night Noodle Markets featured heaps of vendors selling every variety of Asian-inspired food, but of course I opted for the cashew chicken & rice.  If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about me after a year abroad, it’s my lack of adventure with food.  Vegemite?  I’ll give it a go.  Rocket?  No dramas.  Duck?  No thanks, mate!😉

  

Crowds at the Night Noodle Markets

NORTON STREET ITALIAN FESTA – Sunday, October 30th in Leichhardt

The day before Halloween, the main street in my neighborhood of Leichhardt was closed to traffic for the annual Italian Festa.  While I ultimately enjoyed the festival (although I do think Buffalo does it better!), I have to say that advertisements for this event were a bit – well, confusing!  My flatmates & I received a postcard in the mail which listed the dates as Friday, October 29 – Sunday, October 31.  Great! . . . Except that those must have been last year’s dates, because when I rocked up to Norton Street on Friday, October 28th (obviously the day of the week stuck in my head & not the date), there wasn’t a vendor to be found.😦  OK, understandable mistake on the part of the organizers as well as myself, right?  So then I looked at the banners along Norton Street which listed the dates as October 29-31, which would make the days Saturday – Monday.  Or so I thought until I walked down Norton for a second time on Saturday, October 29th only to find that once again – no pizza, no gelato . . . what the heck is going on?!

I still haven’t figured out the full story, but what I gathered from some of the locals is that apparently there are some minor events that take place on the days surrounding the main festival date, which was, alas, Sunday, October 30th . . . finally!!  It was only on Sunday that the street was closed & the vendors set up shop for the day.  When that day finally came, I enjoyed a yummy tomato, basil & mozzarella panini & some refreshing lemon granita (similar to lemon ice).  Mmmm.🙂

Norton Street Italian Festa

Also part of Crave Sydney was the Macaron Madness! course I completed through The Essential Ingredient on October 30th & wrote about in my last blog post.

Learning to Make Macarons!

And of course October isn’t the only time you can find great festivals around Sydney.  Already this month I’ve attended the Rocks Markets by Moonlight, the Newtown Festival & Sculpture By the Sea, with plans to stop by the Glebe Street Fair this weekend!!  Sculpture By the Sea was amazing – I plan to upload those pics to my flickr account hopefully by the end of the week, so check back soon for some beautiful artwork!🙂

Macaron Madness!

Homemade Salted Caramel & Chocolate Macarons - A bit wonky-looking, but good just the same!!

My love of baking, combined with my newfound love of macarons, could mean only one thing: I had to learn how to make these bad boys while I was still living in Oz!😀

After researching local classes, I came across The Essential Ingredient’s cooking school calendar & on it, a Macaron Madness! course taught by Trissa Lopez.  What I liked about Trissa from the start is that she *isn’t* a professional pastry chef.  Her passion for baking (& as she says, her many failed attempts at macaron-making!) is what qualifies her to teach the class.  I figured this would enable her to better relate to someone like me who was (& perhaps still is!) a bit terrified about the prospect of making macarons.  I’ve often heard that they’re a tricky treat to master & since macarons are scarce in the States (I’m sure they’re more well-known in places like San Francisco & New York, but from what I understand there’s only one bakery in Buffalo that sells them), I figured my family & friends would largely have to rely on *me* for their macaron fix when I return home!😉

Macarons can sense fear,” Trissa teased, to which the class erupted in laughter.  But I found out just how true that statement is when my group allowed me to begin the macaron-making process by beating some egg whites & then adding in some sugar, which was *supposed* to result in stiff peaks . . . but after mixing . . . & mixing . . . & mixing some more . . . still no peaks – not even a little fluff! . . . Macarons: 1, Niki: 0.😦

What the heck?!  We figured it could have been a couple of things: Trissa mentioned that if there was any egg yolk or shell in with the egg whites, it just wouldn’t work.  Also, we realized we may have waited too long to add the final 50g of sugar (we used 100g total, which was to be added 50g at a time).

Anyway, with that little mishap out of the way (we just started again with a fresh batch), the rest of the class went pretty smoothly.

Freshly piped chocolate macaron shells waiting to go into the oven

We learned so many tricks & tips along the way, it would be tough for me to share them all here (& probably a bit boring, since most of my readers have never even tasted macarons – but don’t worry, that won’t be for long! ;)).  Fortunately we were given a copy of the recipes for both the Chocolate (with chocolate ganache filling) & Salted Caramel (with salted caramel filling) macarons that we made in class & of course I also took copious notes lest I forget all these little gems of information!  Also, for those who may be interested, Trissa recommends the book Secrets of Macarons by Jose Marechal, which I had purchased previously thanks to the suggestion on her blog.🙂

A great read if you're looking to understand how macarons are made, what can go wrong & of course some great recipes!

I suppose I should explain that macaron shells are made from four ingredients:

– Almond meal

– Icing (confectioners) sugar

– Caster sugar (this is a superfine sugar – not sure if we use it in the States, but I found out that granulated sugar can be substituted)

– Egg whites

It is the shells that provide the irresistible texture of the macaron – a thin, crispy layer on the outside, with a chewy layer just underneath the surface.

Macaron shells just out of the oven - No, these are not the chocolate ones pictured above; these are for our Salted Caramel macarons

After baking, the shells must cool before you fill them.  The filling is where you can get really creative, since this is where you will find most (if not all) of the flavor (for instance, although chocolate macaron shells are made with cocoa powder, strawberry macaron shells are usually just dyed pink & the actual strawberry flavor is in the filling).  Fillings can be ganache, pastry cream, caramel, ice cream, fruit, etc. (or sometimes a combination of these!)  The sky’s the limit with this one! (Just ask Adriano Zumbo – wasabi macarons, anyone?! ;))

Upside-down macaron shells - ready to be filled

Once the baked macaron shells have cooled, it’s time to pair them up; since you may have a few different sizes in your batch, just look for shells that seem to fit well together & these become your pairs.  Trissa likened this process to finding a life partner – probably none will be perfect, but you can usually find a good match!😉

Ooey-gooey delicious salted caramel filling

Almost done!

The only thing left to do now is to put the two halves together & take a bite!!😉  So – how did they turn out?  The Chocolate Macaron tastes like a fudgy chocolate brownie & the Salted Caramel Macaron tastes just like it sounds – the salt really complements the sweetness of the caramel sauce – a bit like the sweet & salty mix you find in kettle corn or chocolate covered pretzels.  Mmmm . . .🙂

All in all, the process of making macarons seemed easier than I was expecting it to be . . . but of course I haven’t yet tried to replicate it!  All I know for sure is that I left the class feeling super excited to go home & try doing it on my own & at the end of the day, what more could you want?  So for Halloween next year, I say forget the candy – let’s all feast on macarons!!😀

Oh & one more thing – I had to try the macarons again on day 2 (purely for research purposes of course, so I could inform my readers how well they keep overnight ;)) & I am happy to report that macarons keep pretty well if you store them in an airtight container in the fridge (Trissa informed us they should last about 3-5 days).  So no worries if you can’t finish your macarons all in one sitting – they are a patient cookie!😉

Ta! Cheers! Thanks!

I fear I may be stating the obvious here, but yes, those are in fact Rice Krispies & Raisin Bran cereals. Brekky, anyone?

It is interesting, & at times challenging, to learn a foreign language.

Now, I know what you’re thinking . . . wait a minute, don’t they speak English in Australia?  Technically, you would be correct (good on ya, mate!), but imagine what would happen if you invented several dozen new words, completely changed the meanings of a handful of others & decided not to clue in an entire country?  (I’m going to go out on a limb here & say that most Americans probably haven’t heard many of these before.)  Oh, & just for kicks, let’s also throw in an accent that sounds something like the lovechild of a Brit & a Bostonian (Aussies (that’s Ozzies) often drop their “r’s,” making words like Melbourne sound like “Melbin” & “Nullarbor” (that great expanse of nothingness on the road from South Australia to Western Australia) sound like “Nullahbor”).

Well I’ve experienced it firsthand & let me just tell you, it can get really confusing, really fast!

Like what if, in some alternate universe, a cantaloupe was not actually a cantaloupe at all, but, oh I dunno, a rockmelon?  Crazy, right?!

Read the sign carefully - no cantaloupes here!

While I certainly don’t presume to know all, or even most, Australian words & phrases, below are some of the ones I have either come across most frequently, or that I have found to be the most amusing.  I also don’t claim that all of these words are purely Australian; many may be rooted in the UK, but I’m not writing a research paper here, just remarking on some of the interesting things you might hear around Oz.

ABC’s:

The letter “H” is pronounced “Hey-ch” & the letter “Z” is pronounced “Zed.”  I still don’t understand how Aussies learn to sing the alphabet when “now I know my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me?” doesn’t rhyme with “X – Y – Zed.”  *Sigh*😦

SUMMERTIME:

Sunnies (Sunglasses)

Thongs (Flip Flops; In New Zealand, these are known as Jandals!)

Esky (Cooler)

Fine/Fine Up (As in, “Tomorrow the weather will be fine” or “I think it’s going to fine up this afternoon.”  Meaning Clear/Not Cloudy.)

Mozzie (Short for Mosquito)

EAT YOUR WORDS:

Capsicum (Pepper; I’ve often seen the word capsicum on a menu, but it still throws me off when I read or hear about someone using “capsicum spray” – then I put two & two together – oh yeah, that’s what they call pepper spray!  Hahaha!)

Capsicum can refer to either red, yellow or green bell peppers.

Rocket (Arugula; I had one of those aha! moments recently when I finally made this connection . . . so we do have “rocket” in the States! . . . if only I’d ever seen or tasted arugula before I would have figured it out sooo much sooner, but we all know how adventurous I am when it comes to food! ;))

Rocket = Arugula . . . Mystery solved!

Muesli (Untoasted Granola; Aussies only call it granola if the “muesli” is toasted!)

Muesli comes in various forms, including the cereal you see pictured above, as well as "muesli bars" (granola bars to Americans).

Jelly (Jello; This one can get a bit confusing, as you might imagine.  No wonder Aussies think it’s odd that peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are a staple of American childhood . . . Although, I have to say – Vegemite?  Really, Australia?!)

There's always room for J-E-L-L-Y?

Lollies (Candy)

Lollies for Cupcake Decorating at the Good Food & Wine Show in July.

Biscuit (Cookie; The ANZAC biscuits pictured below were created during WWI.  Made from ingredients that do not readily spoil, such as oats, coconuts & golden syrup, the biscuits were able to survive the long journey to the troops.)

ANZAC stands for Australia & New Zealand Army Corps.

Magnum (OK, I had to throw this one in here – in Australia, Magnum is a brand of Ice Cream.  Reminds me of a story of a British friend who studied abroad in the States; In the middle of a class one day he made the faux pas of asking if anyone had a “rubber” . . . that’s an eraser to the Brits!! ;))

Perhaps a bit ironically, their slogan is "For Pleasure Seekers."

Hundreds & Thousands (These are sprinkles, but only the “Dot” Sprinkles are called 100’s & 1000’s – the long, skinny sprinkles are still called sprinkles!

100's & 1000's

MISCELLANEOUS:

Sloppy Joe (No, this one does not belong in the food category!  At least not in Australia.  According to an Aussie friend from work, a “sloppy joe” is a Sweatshirt!)

Nappies (This is NOT slang for “napkins,” despite the similarity between the two words.  And it’s a good thing I learned this one early on because nappies are in fact . . . Diapers!)

Baby Nappies

Serviettes (These are the Napkins!  It always sounds so funny to me when I have to ask customers at work if they want their cupcake on a serviette or in a take-away bag – it sounds to me like I’m asking if they want it on a silver platter!)

Take-Away (OK, we can easily figure out that this is a synonym for “Take-Out,” but I had never used this phrase before hearing it abroad.  I know it’s a small difference, but I think it has a nice ring to it. :))

Brekky (short for Breakfast)

Famous "Big Brekky" at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt

Rubbish Bin; or simply “Bin” (Garbage/Trash Can.  You might also use the word rubbish to describe something you don’t like, as in “This music is rubbish.”  In addition, instead of “throw it in the garbage/trash, Aussies would say “chuck it in the bin.”)

Trolley (Shopping Cart)

Pram (Stroller)

Ute (Utility Vehicle; Although it always makes me think of those two “youts” from My Cousin Vinny – hahaha!)

TaCheers (As you may have guessed from the title of this post, both words mean Thanks.  Ta is very informal & thus only used for very small/minor favors.  I often hear it at work when handing a customer his or her change.)

PHRASES IN TRANSLATION:

You’ve surely heard No worries, but what about No dramas or Too easy?  Oz has a very laid back culture.😉

What do you reckon? (OK, so we know what this one means as well, but seriously, who actually says reckon in the 21st century? . . . Except that it’s used so often in Australia I’m afraid I just might hear it coming out of my own mouth one of these days!)

Rock up (To arrive; e.g., “What time did they finally rock up?”)

How ya going? (How are you?  I just can’t bring myself to say this one – it sounds way too strange with my American accent.  Same goes for “G’day, mate!“)

Give it a go (Give it a try)

How did you go? (How did you do?)

Hey? (Huh?)

Stuff up/Stuff around (Make a mistake/Dilly-dally)

Good on ya! (Good for you!)

It’s my shout (It’s my turn to pay.  I love the political poster below that’s currently hanging up around the city.  “Labor” refers to one of the major political parties in Australia.  They would be considered the liberal party in the American sense of the word, but this is a bit confusing as Australia’s other main party is literally called the “Liberal” party & they are the conservatives!)

The Murray-Darling is a river basin in southeast Australia & apparently it is very thirsty!

I’ve got bags (Dibs)

Are you alright? (Can I help you?  This is something you might say to a customer in a store, meaning perhaps “Can I help you find something?” or “Are you ready to order?,” not “Are you hurt?” or “Are you going to be ill?,” although that’s what it always sounded like to me until I got used to hearing it on a regular basis!)

What are you after? (What would you like?)

To get rugged up (Put on lots of warm clothes)

Chuck a Sickie (No, it doesn’t mean to vomit, although it kinda sounds like that, hey?😉  It actually means to Call in sick to work when you’re not really sick.)

SAME WORD, DIFFERENT PRONUNCIATION:

First of all, let me make the disclaimer right now that I have *no* idea how to do proper phonetic spellings, so this section is going to be a real challenge.  Some of these (like to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to) you’ll already be familiar with so it won’t matter so much; others (like o-RE-ga-no/o-re-GA-no) will probably be new.

Tomato (“You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to . . . Let’s call the whole thing off!“)

Banana (My supervisor & I were chatting about Australian & American words & accents one day when she asked me to try to pronounce “banana” like an Aussie – she nearly choked on her coffee after hearing my interpretation (she said I sounded more British than Australian!) – I guess I won’t be starting an acting career anytime soon!😉  Oh well, it’s something like “ba-NAH-na.”)

Peanut Butter (I *love* hearing Aussies say this – whereas we say PEANUT butter, their version is more like “peanut BUTT-ah“)

Mocha (Mah-ca – OK, I admit I don’t know how to do this one justice phonetically, but when Aussies pronounce “mocha,” you don’t hear the “oh” sound that Americans use, it’s more like a cross between an “oh” & an “ah.”)

Basil (This one always cracks me up because when I try to think about how the Aussies pronounce it, I often end up thinking “baah-sil” (baa) like a sheep instead of “ba-sil” [OK, I don’t know how to spell this one phonetically either, but it starts out like the “ba” in “bat”] & then inevitably it takes me a minute or two to remember how I pronounce it [bay-sil – Americans say “bay-sil,” Niki!  Hahaha!])

Oregano (O-re-GAN-o.  This one is tricky because as an American, you have to put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble.  If you forget how to pronounce it, just remember that it sounds a bit like origami!)

Fillet (FILL-it.  This is one of the few words for which I think the American pronunciation is more beautiful than the Australian . . . although technically the American pronunciation is the French pronunciation, so we can’t really take credit for that. ;))

JUST FOR FUN:

I recently came across some children’s books that had me in stitches – I swear these titles could be from an SNL skit, but no, they’re real!  Of course I took pictures just to prove I wasn’t making these up!😉

I didn't know those little piggies lived in the bush!

The dingrel* is coming!  The dingrel is coming!

Watch out, little bush pigs – the hungry dingrel is looking for an easy feed.  You’d better build a very strong house to keep him out!

A clever new Aussie twist on an old story.”

*I have absolutely no idea what a dingrel is – maybe similar to a dingo?  A Google search proved to be unhelpful in this matter.😦

I always thought it was a boy who cried wolf? Silly Aussies!

“Cocky is a cheeky trickster, who loves nothing more than pulling pranks on the other birds.  But when Cocky’s tricks get him into real trouble, he finally learns his lesson . . . or does he?”

There are heaps (lots) more I’m probably forgetting right now & others I’ve left out intentionally, otherwise this post could go on forever! (as if it hasn’t gone on long enough already! ;)) Well, hopefully my ramblings have given you a tiny glimpse into the language of the Land Down Under.😀  And get ready . . . because in about a month you’re in for a real treat, when I post Aussie Slang: Christmas Edition!!😀

By the way, fun social experiment – go to your local supermarket & start taking random pictures of everyday food items . . . you’ll be sure to get some looks – hahaha!😉

The Evolution of a Rosetta

A stunning rosetta from Le Pan Quotidien in Leichhardt, one of my favorite neighborhood cafes.

This post is a continuation of my previous one, “The Perfect Cup,” on what it takes to make a great cup of coffee.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I first started learning about espresso-based drinks, was that I really didn’t have the faintest idea what went into making them!  Sure I’d had plenty of cappuccinos, lattes & mochas previously, but could I have described the components to you?  Probably not.  How much foam goes into a cap vs. a latte? (Although I already knew a cap has more, I wouldn’t have been able to judge how much to include in each drink.)  Which coffees are traditionally served in a porcelain cup & which are served in a glass?  Who knew?!  And what exactly was a flat white?  Affogato?  Babychino?!  I’d never even heard of these before!

In fact, when I visited Heather in Sydney a year ago, I mistakenly ordered a “macchiato,” assuming that it would be something like the caramel macchiato I’d often gotten from Starbucks (but perhaps without the caramel).  Well, guess again!  A true macchiato is quite different.  In Italian, the word means “marked” or “stained” & in the case of a macchiato coffee it refers to the fact that a shot of espresso is marked with a dash of steamed milk & about 2 teaspoons of foam.  A bit disappointing if you’re expecting a regular size drink. 0:-)

So as you can imagine, I was excited to finally learn what goes into making some of the most common coffees, both as a consumer & (at the time) soon-to-be barista.🙂  If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what’s in your cup, allow me to clear up some of the mystery!

The most common drinks on a coffee menu (descriptions from bean there, drunk that… by David Gee & Matthew Gee):

Espresso (Short Black) – A shot of espresso (30 mL = 1 fl oz) served in a demitasse cup or glass.

Macchiato – A shot of espresso served in a small cup or glass with a dash of steamed milk & 2 teaspoons of froth.

Cappuccino – A shot of espresso served in a porcelain cup with steamed milk & froth that extends down about 10 mm (about the length of your fingernail) & up over the rim to create a ‘dome.’  Topped with chocolate drinking powder.

Latte – A shot of espresso served in a glass with steamed milk & froth that extends down about 10 mm.

Piccolo Latte – A small espresso glass filled with a shot of espresso, steamed milk & about 5 mm of froth.

Flat White (a purely Australian invention! :)) – This is a great drink for those who prefer minimal froth in their coffees.  A shot of espresso served in a porcelain cup with steamed milk & only about 2 mm of froth, just to add some texture.

Mocha – About 1 tablespoon of chocolate drinking powder dissolved in a shot of espresso with steamed milk (Dear Tim Hortons, a mocha is NOT half a cup of filtered coffee combined with half a cup of hot chocolate. Ugh. :().  Depending on the cafe, a mocha can be served in either a porcelain cup (in which case, do the foam as you would for a cappuccino) or a glass (in which case, do the foam as you would for a latte).  Topped with chocolate drinking powder.

Long Black (Americano) – Half fill a porcelain cup with hot water & then pour in two shots of espresso.

Babychino – Yes, this really is for kids!  No actual coffee in this drink, of course – just a demitasse cup filled with froth, with chocolate drinking powder sprinkled on top.

Affogato – A scoop of ice cream with one or two shots of espresso poured over the top & served in a porcelain cup.  Ghermez does not have this on their menu as we do not serve ice cream, but I will have to try it at another cafe sometime soon!  We also do not serve iced coffees as Australian iced coffees are made with ice cream.  Crazy!

After learning to make each of the coffees properly, my next goal was to be able to create beautiful latte art – specifically, I wanted to learn how to “free pour” a rosetta (leaf).  Little did I know how many silly designs I would accidentally create in the process!  Many times I would produce only a tiny dot, squiggle or blob & sometimes nothing at all would emerge as the white milk blended with the brown crema of the coffee.  But over the months as I gained a bit more control, little by little strange shapes started to materialize on top of my coffees . . . Below is one of my first attempts at a rosetta (yes, that was *supposed* to be a rosetta – this is where you refer back to the real rosetta produced by a professional barista at the top of this post & laugh at how ridiculous the upcoming photos are going to appear in comparison!)

A Chinese character or perhaps a pagoda? Rorschach ink blot maybe? What do YOU see?!

The funniest thing about these “mistakes” is that I couldn’t produce them again if I tried!

Another wannabe rosetta . . . except it was destined to be a snake!

I have to give a shout out to my colleague Nerida, or as I like to call her, “my Creative Director,” as she provided the inspiration for several of my designs, including this one.  She took one look at the squiggles I created in this coffee & remarked, “look, it’s a snake!”  All I had to do was dip a thermometer in the brown crema of the coffee & add the dot you see in the snake’s head in order to make an eye.😉

It turns out that this coffee was a lucky one, because it won me the latte art contest we had during the month of August at work (along with a $20 gift card to itunes – yeah!).  It certainly wasn’t that I produced the best designs – there are far more experienced baristas at Ghermez that can produce perfect rosettas every time – it was really more of a “most improved” award.  I had to learn to steam the milk correctly before it was possible to create any latte art at all & after that it still takes heaps of practice to free pour something that looks like . . . well, anything!

I was also trying to learn how to free pour love hearts around this same time (which are *supposed* to be easier than rosettas, except that I’m still struggling with them!).  Once, just once, I got the *perfect* love heart – a big one, perfectly symmetrical, it was beautiful! – but only Nerida was there to see it.  I didn’t get a picture of that one so I have no proof.😦  But I did produce another heart-like design that I was quite proud of – even if it was a bit unconventional!

Nerida dubbed this one "Ghost Heart" - it's hard to explain, but if there was such a thing this would be it, don't you think?!

Before I produced my first rosetta (yes, I really did make one – once, LOL! – wait for it, it’s coming!), I went through another stage where I stopped producing Chinese characters & snakes (hahaha!) & started producing fat blob-like leaves that told me I just might be heading in the right direction.

Looking more & more like a rosetta - I think we're on the right track!

And finally, after heaps more practice . . .

My very first rosetta! So pretty!!

I was SO proud!  The next steps would be to 1) be able to produce a rosetta consistently (I’ve gone back to working on those pesky love hearts now & the few times I’ve tried to do a rosetta after this one I haven’t even come close – aargh! :() & 2) produce a larger rosetta that fills the cup, like the one at the top of this post from Le Pan Quotidien.

Maybe someday soon I’ll get there, but I only have less than two months to practice since I plan to leave Ghermez in late November/early December to travel through Queensland . . . Great Barrier Reef, here I come!😀

The Perfect Cup

A Beautiful Coffee from Three Bags Full Cafe in Melbourne

If you know me at all, you know how much I love coffee.  I *crave* coffee.  Some might say I cannot truly function without coffee, but let’s not test that theory – some things are better left unknown.😉

A good cup of coffee can go a looong way in getting my day off to a good start.  I can tell right away with that first sip – the perfectly extracted espresso, the smooth, silky milk topped with a layer of tantalizing foam that tickles your lips, all served at just the right temperature so that it glides down your throat & warms you from the inside, out.  Sound intoxicating?  Trust me, when done correctly, it is!

Some advice for my friends & family out there – if ever I’m in a bad mood, just serve me up a good cup of coffee & watch the transformation – it won’t take long, I promise.  I fully understand that coffee is technically a stimulant, but in those magical moments after taking that first sip, I swear to you a good cup of coffee can actually make me feel . . . relaxed.

Just thinking about that perfect cup & I can almost feel it now – the tension melting away from my neck & shoulders as the drug works its wonders, my face reflexively smiling at the simple thought of how wonderful it is to live in a world with coffee . . . ah, bliss.😀

Until recently I had no idea just how much effort goes into making a good cup.  Knowing that I might end up in a job that required me to have some knowledge of what it takes to be a barista (& also out of my own fascination with this delicious beverage), I decided to enroll in a barista course shortly after arriving in Sydney back in May.  The course was only 5 hours long, so in no way did I think I would become an expert after such a short time (& even now, after four months of experience making espresso-based drinks, I still would not claim to be an expert), but I do think I’ve gained a much better appreciation for all the steps involved.  Believe it or not, there is actually more to it than I’m going to discuss here, but what follows are some of the main issues baristas must tackle on a daily basis.

Latte Art I learned how to create in my barista course using chocolate syrup - yes, I actually made these coffees!

GRINDING & TAMPING THE COFFEE

* Good cafes grind coffee only as needed, in order to preserve freshness.

* The grinder must be set correctly (& regularly adjusted) so that the espresso machine produces a 30 mL (1 oz) shot of espresso in 30 seconds.

– If the shot is pouring too quickly, the result is a weak, watery coffee.  Solution: Make the grind finer.

– If the shot is pouring too slowly, the result is a burnt, bitter coffee (N.B. This is how most Aussies view Starbucks coffee.  They generally believe that Americans think a “good” or “strong” coffee equals a burnt coffee :().  Solution: Make the grind more coarse.

– The way a barista packs the coffee into the “group handle” also affects the pour, along the same lines as described above.

– Environmental factors, such as the weather, can affect the pour as well.  For instance, on a humid day you will need to make the grind more coarse.  This is because the coffee will attract the moisture in the air, causing it to pack more tightly.

* Since the way the coffee is packed into the group handle clearly affects the quality of the resulting espresso, my barista course taught me that it is important for all baristas to use the same amount of force when “tamping” the coffee, specifically 18 kilos . . . that’s 40 lbs of force!!  We practiced tamping the coffee on a bathroom scale to get a feel for it – try it some time, it’s a workout!

Coffee from The Book Kitchen Cafe in Surry Hills

STEAMING THE MILK

The purpose of steaming the milk is not only to heat it (although of course heating the milk to the correct temperature is important), the goal is to both create foam or froth & then texturize the milk.

Part 1 – Creating the Froth/Foam

As the espresso shot is pouring, it is time to steam the milk.  The steam wand is inserted just far enough into the milk jug so that the holes on the tip of the wand are covered when you turn on the steam.  You then slowly lower the jug so that the holes are exposed & steam is forced into the milk, creating . . . you guessed it, foam!🙂  How much foam you want to create depends on the type of drink you are making, but we’ll cover that in another post!

Now this may sound simple enough & once you get the hang of it I suppose it is, but it is a delicate process & when you are first learning it can be a bit tricky.  Too much steam allowed into the milk too quickly & you will hear big gulps of air being sucked in, creating what Aussies like to refer to as “roadhouse froth” – in case you were wondering, this is not a compliment!😉  If the barista is frothing the milk correctly you should hear a gentle “kissing” noise as the air enters the milk.

Part 2 – Texturizing the Milk

Once you have created enough foam, you can lower the steam wand into the milk jug so that the holes are once again covered.  If the wand is positioned correctly, the milk will spin quickly in the jug, resulting in a smooth, silky texture.  Once the milk has reached the correct temperature (65C or 150F), you can turn off the steam wand & pour your drink.  So, how do you know once the milk has reached 65 degrees?  Well, the simple solution would be to use a thermometer, but life is never that simple, right?😉  Most baristas tend to rely on their senses to tell them when the milk is ready.  Specifically, they will keep one hand on the bottom of the milk jug, feeling for when the milk has reached the desired temperature.  They will also listen to the sound of the milk as it spins in the jug – the sound gets audibly lower as the milk reaches 65 degrees.

Sound crazy?  I thought so, too!  I’ve gotten better at it over time, but I still think a thermometer would tend to be more accurate (at least when I’m the one behind the espresso machine, hahaha!)

More Latte Art I created during my barista course

HOW TO PROPERLY STORE COFFEE BEANS/GROUNDS

Do NOT store coffee in the fridge or freezer (this means you, mom – LOL!).  Always store any coffee beans or grounds in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place (such as inside a cupboard).  Why?  Remember what we said above about coffee attracting moisture – the fridge/freezer is not only going to enable coffee to readily absorb moisture, it will also pick up smells from the surrounding food  – fish flavored coffee, anyone?😉

A NOTE ON LATTE ART

The latte art I created in the photos above were all made using a technique called “etching.”  This is where you use a thermometer or other instrument to essentially draw an image on the coffee.  While these designs may look impressive, they are not as technically difficult to produce as the rosettas (leaves) you see in the pictures from Three Bags Full Cafe & The Book Kitchen Cafe above.  Rosettas are created using a technique known as “free pouring,” in which you use your wrist to gently shake the milk jug as you are pouring the milk into the espresso – if done correctly, it will result in a beautiful leaf-like pattern (this is specifically for the rosetta; other patterns such as a love heart & many, many more designs can be created by the skilled barista).  More on this technique, including how my own latte art skills have evolved over the past few months, in my next post!

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